Actually, I try hard NOT to have a favorite kid…

Posted on September 26, 2012

So, there’s this: a daddy blogger (is that what I am too??) who openly said that he prefers one of his sons more than the other, the elder more than the younger.  He has tried to rephrase this sentiment in recent days, saying that he likes them differently, but in the end, returns to the fact that one of his sons is his favorite.  Of course, the reaction to this piece has been harshly critical with people rightly pointing out that one day his younger son is going to read this piece one day, and he is going to be pisssssed.

But I found one person’s response especially striking.  That commentator wrote this:

“I commend you for being so honest and I can relate. It’s a shame that people can’t just read the blog as written without trying to act so superior and having the ‘Oh, I could NEVER’ attitude. Kudos to you for being honest and HUMAN.”

An interesting point of view.   I’m guessing that it stems from the belief that telling others how you feel is always a good thing to do because it promotes openness, authenticity, and transparency, which are rare nowadays.  And sure, I can see that being the case, especially in situations where a critical issue or great injustice has been buried for too long.  I’m guessing that to some extent Buzz Bishop felt this way when he wrote the article, that hey, he was just being honest and keeping it real!  He’s just saying what everyone feels, but is afraid to voice themselves.  And that kind of candor is refreshing, and maybe even brave.  I bet he thought he was being refreshingly brave.

But I have a huge problem with this for two reasons:

First, this view seems to value candor and honesty as a virtue in its own right.  But “telling people exactly how you feel” is hardly a virtue when what you feel is hurtful, unfair, prejudiced, or just plain mean (as in this situation).  If you are brutally honest with yourself, you might have a favorite child or be prejudiced against blacks, and biased against Muslims – that’s just how you naturally feel!  But the “naturalness” of these attitudes does not somehow justify them, as if all the things that humans naturally feel have a rightful place in civilized life.  There are many things that we believe naturally, that we really shouldn’t.  A father should hardly be patted on the back or seen as a trailblazer because he was “brave” enough to say that he plays favorites with his children and doesn’t really see a problem with it.  Such a father should probably put more effort into treating his children fairly instead of publicizing that he doesn’t.

But to be honest, I have a deeper issue with this situation, and that is that children are not the same as adults.  Recently, I wrote a post about my daughter, and how I refused to tell her about the supposed hostility between Blacks and Koreans because I didn’t want her to inherit stereotypes and prejudices that were blatant over-generalizations.

In response, someone wrote that they disagreed with me, that it was important to be honest and upfront with children about the reality of what life is really like.  I responded (politely) that I didn’t agree with her because children lack the ability to understand nuance.  I could share with her what I believed to be a clear and balanced summary of the simmering tensions between groups, but all of my careful balancing and word selection would be largely lost on her.  I might carefully say, “Some people might believe that blacks and Koreans have a more difficult time getting along than other conceivably groups would.”  But children, with their amazing ability to distill information into its purest form, would hear nothing but, “Blacks and Koreans don’t get along.”  And being the impressionable child that she is, that all children are, who knows how long she would carry that belief with her.

I think something similar is happening here.  If you read the responses, Buzzy tries to address the controversy in a number of ways, saying that one son will never be in the other’s shadow, that he just “likes them differently”, or spends more time with one than the other.  Such careful semantic gymnastics might work on adults (but no adults that I know personally), but they will be completely lost on his sons.  They will immediately discern the purest idea in the discussion, and that is this: Daddy likes Zacharie more than Charlie.  And no amount of careful word choice from that point in time is going to be able to minimize the consequence of this terrible sentiment on poor Charlie.

Daddy likes my brother more than me.

I understand being candid, and speaking on topics that have remained hidden or taboo.  I realize that in order to process, we must be honest.  I think that some of the most powerful pieces that I have ever written have come from such a place.  Such words are surely necessary at times.  But for the love of Charlie, leave your kids out of it.  They are fragile and sensitive.  They do not understand nuance and semantics.  They do not express how much they have been wounded, and carry emotional wounds for far longer than any parent would like to think.  And because of this, our need to express ourselves freely must take a backseat to our obligation as parents to protect the hearts and minds of our children.  To value personal candor more highly than the welfare of an impressionable child smacks of total selfishness.

The importance of honesty must always be measured against our obligations to other people, to our society, to our families, and our children.  In this situation, Buzzy’s candor might have been “refreshing” to the thousands who have read his post, and it definitely drove traffic to his blog, both moderately positive outcomes.  But that same candor will potentially leave a terrible scar on his own son, a profoundly negative outcome.  And you have to ask yourself if being “refreshing” or “real” is worth such a heavy personal cost.

Posted in: Opinion